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Is Peters Being Used As A Pawn in Al-Qaeda's Game?

Is Peters Being Used As A Pawn in Al-Qaeda's Game?

By Paul G. Buchanan

NOTE: Paul G. Buchanan is the Director of the Working Group on Alternative Security Perspectives at the University of Auckland. He previously worked as a analyst and consultant for several U.S. security agencies and with irregular forces in Latin America.


Opinion: - As an irregular warfare tactic, terrorism is a psychological weapon. Its aim is not to degrade the military capacity of an opponent, but to wear down his/her will to persist in a given course of action. It does so by focusing on “soft” non-military targets with high symbolic value, whose very choice (because of their distance from and lack of complicity in the conflicts of the moment) makes all the more horrifying and senseless the attack.

Popular revulsion against terrorist acts often translates into questioning of the activities that precipitated them. Absent a pressing and compelling threat to the physical survival of the nation, the costs of absorbing terrorist strikes appears to outweigh the benefits of continuing policies that lead to that type of retaliation. Even the thought of terrorism is enough to create conditions of fear that make certain populations bend to the terrorist’s will. For that to happen, there have to be agents willing to propagate the terrorist message, both directly and indirectly.

Al-Qaeda is a loose network of Islamicist guerrilla cells, mostly but not exclusively of Whahabbist orientation, dedicated to eradicating Western influence from the Muslim Diaspora via a global campaign of terrorism. They do so by attacking Western targets and symbols of Western influence in the Muslim world. The objective is to sow irrational fear among Western populations that is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by Islamic terrorism, and to provoke government over-reaction when attempting to safeguard their civilian populations and influence in the Muslim world.

Abandoning policies of tolerance and presumed innocence by universally targeting resident Muslim communities based on who they are as opposed to what they intend, Western responses to the al-Qaeda “sucker ploy” serve to distance resident Muslims from the non-Muslim majority, as well as further alienate the Islamic world from the West as a whole.

Attacking Muslim states on the pretext that military preemption better protects Western societies from future harm compounds the problem and plays neatly into the jiahdis’ hands. In an age of Western globalisation, this is the fundamentalist’s last stand, and anything that keeps their cause alive is worth trying.

Al-Qaeda needs two types of agent in order to carry out its global terrorist campaign. First, it needs dedicated Islamicist cells with the knowledge and ability to stage unconventional attacks in targeted countries. This requires embedded local knowledge and the ability to pass unnoticed among the general population. Thus the concern about “sleeper” cells that can be activated to carry out terrorist missions after years of lying dormant amid the normalcy of daily life.

The second type of agent required is what Lenin called “useful fools”: those who can be manipulated—psychologically, politically or emotionally, playing on their own self-interest—in order to advance the terrorist cause. In the measure that they realize they are helping a larger ideological project, such agents may consider themselves as willing tools rather than fools. However labeled, these can be found in the media, in civil society, or in politics. Only with the two types of agent working in parallel can al-Qaeda’s global objectives be achieved.

In New Zealand, there are currently no known al-Qaeda cells. The SIS and police counter-terrorism unit have said as much. Although it might be the case that these agencies choose not to divulge the existence of sleeper cells so as to not cause general panic, such a scenario (cell activation) requires a precipitant to spring into action. The precipitant can be an agent provocateur, someone who, as a pawn in the larger ideological struggle, creates the conditions in which anti-Muslim fear grows, cultural dissonance obtains, extremist sentiment of various stripes begins to breed, and the sucker ploy pursued as an unconventional military stratagem is undertaken.

Is there such a pawn in New Zealand? Certainly no fool, there is an individual who, however unintentionally, serves as an Islamicist tool used to sow the seeds of domestic discontent. By engaging in ethnic and religious-based scapegoating of the resident Muslim community, which he claims (without evidence) hides treasonous and violent members primed to launch attacks on these shores, the rabble-rouser fosters irrational fear within the majority non-Islamic population. In the measure that he promotes culturally based hatred, he further alienates resident Muslims from the majority. Worse yet, he puts the fear of Islamic terrorism into the hearts of those who otherwise have little reason to worry about that threat to their physical security.

Wielding his invective brush, he manipulates public opinion to lay siege on the Muslim community while tail wagging the governmental dog on issues of immigration and refuge. In the measure that this succeeds he advances his own political ambitions, but more concerning, those of the jihadi puppet-masters. Unconsciously perhaps, he nevertheless jerks on strings pulled by Osama’s army.

Given his statements on foreign policy, migration, refugees and domestic security, it is clear that were he to be in a position to do so, this individual would pursue policies of isolationism abroad and ethnically based politics at home, including security policy based on cultural suspicion. It extends to political censorship, as shown by his calls to ban the Arab media outlet al-Jazeera from broadcasting in New Zealand. He openly calls for stringent limits on cultural tolerance. His agenda is, in a phrase, xenophobic nationalism translated into government authority.

Were he able, this fellow would order New Zealand’s withdrawal from international commitments, particularly engagement with the Muslim world, while simultaneously curtailing the civil rights of resident Muslims as “suspect” peoples. That has implications for trade, commerce, diplomatic standing, domestic liberties and military affairs. In the measure that he influences public opinion and government policy, this person furthers al-Qaeda’s objectives by sowing the seeds of anti-Muslim fear and antagonism in a country that historically has no quarrel with Islam or its adherents, and whose current foreign policy stance has bought it a measure of insurance from Islamicist attacks without compromising the basic civil rights that are the foundational stone of the political system.

In the measure that his views are reported in the Muslim world, he attracts the untoward interest of Islamicists eager to globally project historical grievances against the backdrop of unjust treatment in contemporary Western societies. Because he is embedded in political life and public consciousness, this man is the ultimate foolish tool: the more his views are aired, the more the country moves to a position of unwarranted polarity vis a vis Muslims at home and abroad. Considering this, it can be argued that electoral support for this individual is an indirect vote for an unnecessary clash of civilizations and, therefore, al-Qaeda. The question remains as to whether the rest of his political party runs lock step with him on the issue of Muslim hydras in our midst.

Islamic extremists may or may not have sleeper cells in New Zealand, which is one part of the equation for victory in carrying out any terrorist campaign in this country. That is something the security services can counter with good intelligence, and there is no reason to think that they are not vigilant and focused on the task. What is more difficult to do is counter culturally-based scare mongering carried out within the confines of an election campaign, which serves to uncover and exacerbate primordial grievances that provide the justification for terrorist attacks. Here New Zealand has a clear threat to its national security, in the guise of an MP who unconsciously, indirectly as it may be, advances the Islamicist extremist cause. That MP is the Right Honourable Member of Parliament from Tauranga, Leader of New Zealand First, Mr. Winston Peters.


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